Apple Music

Sep 14

Apple’s i prepares for retirement

At last week’s event, Tim Cook made it clear that Apple Pay and Apple Watch have an amazing future.

He made it equally clear that Apple’s little “i” has no future at all.

It’s difficult to draw any other conclusion, since iPay and iWatch would have fit so perfectly into Apple’s current naming scheme.

Hey, we all knew this day would come. The i had a long and fruitful life, but it’s time to start planning for the golden years.

The truth is, the idea of moving past the i had come up at various times inside Apple. In fact, I had a conversation with Steve Jobs on this very topic way back in 2006. Continue reading →

Jun 13

iPhone ads: Apple plays the ubiquity card

A few weeks ago, Apple started running a new commercial for iPhone.

I thought it was a beautiful spot. It’s perfectly produced and acted, hits the right emotional notes and demonstrates how iPhone photography has become deeply ingrained in our culture.

With a second spot, this approach becomes a campaign. The most recent commercial (above) uses the identical structure, this time celebrating our love of music.

We see situations that capture the many ways we interact with music, and then the voiceover comes on to seal the deal: “Every day, more people enjoy their music on the iPhone than any other phone.”

It’s a good sequel to the first ad, which concluded “Every day, more photos are taken with the iPhone than any other camera.”

While Samsung is out there showering us with ads celebrating the new features in the Galaxy S4, Apple isn’t talking about product features at all — other than the fact that iPhone takes pictures and plays music. Continue reading →

Jun 11

WWDC 2011: the morning after

Ah, the joy of software. This really is the stuff that makes Apple Apple, and it was fun to see such widespread improvements in one fell swoop.

As usual, some random day-after thoughts.

Mac OS X

Full-screen apps. This is a personal favorite. Can’t wait to see it in action. I currently use full-screen with all apps that enable it, and always appreciate the focus it brings. We’ve got the screen space — it’s a shame not to use it all.

Auto-Save. I look forward to not repeating some of the more humbling failures of my past. Turning the window title into a pop-up menu to access past versions is a nice touch. Being able to copy and paste from old versions is even nicer.

The feature count. Poor Lion. Only 250 new features. Leopard had 300.

Lion power, kitty price. $29 is amazing. Snow Leopard was the aberration at $29, compared to all the $129 Mac OS X upgrades before. But there was a reason for that — Snow Leopard’s changes were mostly in the plumbing. Lion is as rich an upgrade as any upgrade in history, but the price stays remarkably low. Why? My guess is that (a) Apple wants to move the entire base forward, because (b) there is far more money to be made down the road with a new foundation. I’m not being cynical, it’s just good business. The more people shopping in the Mac App Store and purchasing future iCloud capabilities, the merrier.

Space travel. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick to death of the current log-in star field and Time Machine theme. It wore out its welcome a long time ago, so I expected it to be replaced — but not by another space scene. Apparently, now we have a galaxy image. Apple has always delivered simplicity and elegance, and the space thing always felt like someone else’s idea of “cool.” Can’t we just pick our own backgrounds?


Feature count, revisited. Only 200 new features in iOS, compared to Lion’s 250 features. Obviously it’s harder to fit new features in a smaller screen.

The big payoff. To excite the crowd, Forstall showed off a slide stating that Apple has paid developers a total of $2.5 billion. It’s a great number until you do the math with the slide right before: customers have downloaded 14 billion apps from the App Store. Let’s see … 2.4 billion divided by 14 billion … that’s about 18 cents an app. Obviously, this says a lot about how many free apps are downloaded.

Notifications. Yippee! At last! It’s interesting that Forstall first confessed that there are problems current notifications, and then said, “We’ve built something that solves some of the problems…” Some?

Safari Reader. One of my favorite features. People may accept that ads pay the bills, but the ultimate reading experience will always be an ad-free zone.

Reading List. Love it. File away an article to be read later, and have that list appear on all your devices.

The geo-fence. Probably my favorite new term from the show (and very cool feature). In telling how Reminders work, Forstall talked about setting up a geo-fence around Moscone, so when he left the building he’d get a reminder. Hopefully, by winter we’ll have geothermal fences.

Camera. Despite talk about the quality of the iPhone camera, I rarely use it. One reason is the damn shutter button on the screen. Sorry, it’s awkward and just not the way we’re accustomed to using cameras. Using the hard Volume Up button as a shutter button makes me an instant fan. Photo-taking is also way improved by the new editing capabilities.

iMessage. It was presented as working across all iOS devices. What about the Mac? Wouldn’t I want to text people while I’m stuck at my desk?

iPhone 5 clue. With iOS 5 coming in the fall, the obvious conclusion is that it will come hand-in-hand with iPhone 5. I can hang in there that long.


Demoting the PC. What a great example of Steve Jobs’ ability to simplify in the boldest way. He said they were demoting computers to be just devices, and moving the center of your digital life to the cloud. You get it in a second. And what PC company CEO on earth would say they’re “demoting” one of their biggest moneymakers?

Facing facts. When promoting iCloud, Steve paused to say: “Now why should I believe them? They’re the ones who brought me MobileMe … MobileMe was not our finest hour.” Say what you will about Steve, he dares to be honest.

DropBox killer? Nope. At least not yet. And I’m glad, because DropBox remains one of the greatest Mac utilities ever created. DropBox far out-iDisked iDisk, and its makers deserve to be rewarded, not obsoleted.

What about Me? Obviously the site will ultimately be the site. Do we still want email addresses (did we ever?). Does the “me” word really have a place in the iCloud concept? We’ll soon find out…

Documents in the Cloud. Not the shortest name Apple has come up with. But it does have that “gorillas in the mist” meter going for it.

iTunes Match. Huge question mark. No one seems to know if this is a way to subscribe to iTunes versions of the songs you already own, or if your $24.99/year allows you to download the higher-quality versions of your songs to your own computer forever. So $24.99 is either one of the world’s great bargains — or not.

Antiquities. On one of the slides appearing behind Steve Jobs is a stack of CDs. Damn, they’re hideous. Did we ever actually use those things?

AAPL is down. It dropped five bucks yesterday. Down another $3.50 as I write this. Call this “iPad Syndrome.” Remember the industry’s reaction to the original iPad? “Just a big iPhone.” “No surprises, no new breakthroughs.” “Apple’s first dud.” The stock dropped. In broad strokes, just about everything we saw yesterday was “expected.” However, what’s expected can be the start of a whole new world. Like iPad.

The prognosticators. Not that we need to be reminded to take people’s opinions with a grain of salt, but… John Gruber’s pre-WWDC idea was “Think of iCloud as the new iTunes.” In fact, he’s still describing it that way after the show. It’s a good sound bite, but not totally accurate. In truth, iCloud is exactly what Steve Jobs said: the new hub of your digital life. Yes, that includes your iTunes content, but it also includes the things you create. For now, that includes the documents you create in iWork, but that capability will no doubt expand. iCloud is about your whole life — documents, photos, contacts, calendars, etc. — not just your entertainment. The Cult of Mac’s “exclusive” was obviously absurd, yet was quoted by many blogs and news services. They said iCloud would not be hosted in Apple’s new data center after all, but instead would reside on your Time Capsule (purchase required if you don’t already own one). Somehow it never struck them that Apple was signing contracts with the music companies for the rights to do something new with their music, not just store it on a personal hard disk.

All in all, good show. Let’s do it again sometime.

Mar 11

iPod: Apple’s quiet monopoly

Remember the good old days when iPod was Apple’s most thrilling product?

Damn those iPhones and iPads, stealing iPod’s thunder like that.

Sure, iPods still get their buzz every September with the new holiday line. The crowds still show up. But clearly today’s iPod lives in the shadow of its more glamorous siblings.

Relatively speaking, iPod goes about its business quietly — if it’s possible to be quiet when your business is maintaining a massive, competition-crushing stranglehold on your category.

Shortly after its birth, iPod grabbed over 80% of the music player market. It was simple, elegant, and the combination of iPod/iTunes just couldn’t be matched.

But nothing’s forever, right? Every intelligent observer assumed that at some point, competitors would appear to bring iPod’s market share back down to earth.

That never happened. Later this year, iPod will celebrate its tenth anniversary — and its tenth year of dominance.

In technology terms, that makes iPod a senior citizen. Yet it still performs like a newborn.

I honestly can’t remember any one product line that’s held such a lopsided advantage for so long. The most recent numbers I can find (July 2010) show iPod owning 76% of the category. Holy hell.

Not that others haven’t tried. Zune was probably the most credible challenger, but could only sputter.

I once had an inside look at the iPod-killing business. I was invited to work with an agency making a pitch for a new Sony music player. Some assignments seem silly only in retrospect, but this one seemed silly even at the time. Our mission: “Bring down the iPod.”

It was an incredible delusion on Sony’s part. Not only was this particular music player a faint echo of an iPod, Sony was willing to invest only $15 million in the marketing effort — while Apple was pouring over $100 million into iPod. To light the fire under the agency, Sony also demanded to see “demonstrable results” in three months.

As long as companies are driven more by delusion and hope, iPod’s 75%+ market share is probably safe.

In fact, at this point one could reasonably argue that iPod will spend its entire life unthreatened by real competition. If anything, the category will simply fade as smartphones make standalone devices less necessary.

I suspect it will be a long, long time before another product dominates like iPod has.

(Yeah, I know. iPad now has 90% market share. But let’s meet back in a year on that one.)

Nov 10

A home page is worth a thousand words

This post is not about the Beatles coming to iTunes. And it will not contain a single Beatles title repurposed as clever copy.

This is really just about the current Apple home page, which is now all Beatles. And I mean all Beatles. No MacBook Airs, no holiday iPods, no news. Just Beatles.

For anyone looking for evidence that Apple doesn’t work like other companies, consider this Exhibit A.

The home page is the most valuable real estate a company owns (at least marketing-wise). Now, for a single cause, Apple removes all hardware selling messages as the busiest buying season descends upon us.

Oh okay, Mr. Cynical. You do have a point that this Beatles tribute isn’t exactly altruistic. It’s there because Apple intends to make a ton of money. And probably because they had to promise this very thing as part of the Beatles deal.

But they are doing this to the exclusion of everything else they make. And this isn’t the first time Apple has dedicated its home page to a message bigger than its products. In fact, previously they’ve done this from the heart, completely sacrificing business as usual.

There were memorial home pages for board member Jerome York (earlier this year) and George Harrison (2001). Rosa Parks (2005) and Gregory Hines (2003) got the main home page image, though product messages remained at the bottom.

It boils down to that fact that Apple tends to act more like a person than a company. Wonder why. From a brand standpoint, this is a very good thing. One of the biggest reasons why Apple connects with its customers emotionally is that it has no problem expressing its values — sometimes in dramatic ways.